Saturday 3rd January, Damascus

A couple of initial impressions of Damascus. Firsly, the men all look like Omar Shariff. Secondly, the border and customs officials on the border of Jordan and Syria were friendlier than what I expected – I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly. They kept saying ‘Velcome. Velcome to Syria.’
The highly recommended Sultan Hotel (recommended by Jan Goldsworthy, actually – hi Jan!) was booked out for my first two nights, so I managed to get rooms at the ‘Orient Palace’ just around the corner before I could secure some bookings at the Sultan, for my last night before scooting to Palmyra and then for a few nights on my way back through Damascus prior to meeting up with the Pella Project in Amman on 11th Jan. The Orient Palace is described thus in the Lonely Planet guidebook: ‘depending on your level of enthusiasm for faded grandeur it either retains plenty of period charm or resembles an early 20th century medical insitution.’
That just about sums it up. Built on the 1920s, the lobby and breakfast room on the ground floor chairs upholstered in green velvet with gold gilt edging. I took a beaut photo but am having difficulty finding somewhere where I can upload photos at the moment so it will have to wait. The  breakfast room, where I dined alone this morning in a space the size of a ball room, was lit by semi-functional chandoliers. It’s something else.
Opposite the hotel is the Hejaz Train Station which is non-operational at the moment because it is having a make-over. I hope they do a good job. The Hejaz deserves nothing less. I opened my balcony windows and nearly fell over backwards when I saw it This amazing building, which makes you feel as though you are being art decoed to death, has huge windows with heaps of coloured lead lighting. Again I took a photo but it doesn’t do it justice. Another tribute to what was presumably one of Damascus’ many heydays, the 1920s and 30s.
At my first opportunity I fled the vast echoing hallways of the Orient and went in search of the Sultan. Now THIS was more like it!!! Accessed only by a tiny lift (God knows where this is taking me to, I said to myself on the way up) it opens up on the most charming hotel you can possibly imagine, with the lounge area all done up with Turkish sofas and SUCH a cozy ambience.
Enough of hotels and art deco train stations. Don’t you want to know all about the famous Old City of Damascus?
I have spent the day taking it all in, and I have one thing to say:
Today I
– tramped the length of the Souq al-Hamidiyya, a long covered market that leads into the heart of the Old City, lined with stalls selling the most amazing things, jewellery, handicrafts, lace and linen, spices, pottery and goodness knows what else
– walked around and around the outside of the Umayyad Mosque in the centre of the Old City in a futile attempt to orientate myself and make sense of my map, I was hopelessly lost but it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter one iota, because Old Damascus is a fantastic place to get hopelessly and completely lost in, I can highly recommend it actually
– grabbed a lentil soup highly spiced with what tasted like cumin at ‘Beit Jabri’, a cafe in a courtyard of an old Damascene house while a musician entertained the diners on a traditional Persian lute,
– sampled ice-cream made from sahlab (like semolina powder) topped with pistachio nuts at the ‘Bekdach’ Icecreamery, then because it was all of three degrees on a cold Syrian winter’s day, (effing cold in other words) I felt chilled to the bone and had to run around the Old City a few times to warm up, and
-plonked my weary bones down at "Al- Nawfaa’, a cafe where a professional story teller retells fables and fairy stories in Arabic every night at seven – I was served, at my request, a cappuchino, but at the same time it was eerily unlike any cappuchino I have every tasted (and probably ever will).
(Gosh this is starting to sound like a job application).
Envious yet?
There are heaps of people I know who would absolutely love the Old City – just about everyone I’m emailing this blog to, for starters, and about 300 or 400 more.

~ by margoforte12 on January 3, 2009.

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